Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2.14 – Nawlins

It seems odd to start with a story about shoes – it should probably be a footnote – but bear with me.
When I was leaving Las Vegas, I got to the airport early, but was disappointed to find no business lounge. With time to kill I looked around and spotted a shoe-polishing guy.
Now my shoes are pretty battered after a winter biking through the Amsterdam snow, many gigs, and many drunken dancefloors, so they could use a spruce up. But they’re nubuck (like suede) so you can’t just polish them.
“Relax!” I thought, this guy’s a shoecare professional, he’ll know what to do. So I sat down and asked if he could do anything with nubuck.
“Yeah, sure” he replied and polished them to a shine!

Flash back nine years. The first time I arrived in Louisiana was on a road trip with Craig. We were playing pool in a hotel bar when a “good ol’ boy” demanded:
“How can you visit Louisiana, and not go to Nolene’s?!!”
“Well” I replied defensively, “we’re not here for cities, we want the open road. So we’re not going to New Orleans”
“It’s not “New Orleans” it’s Nawlins!” he insisted. “…go there, go to the French quarter and you’ll see some of the craziest shit you’ve ever seen!!”
Craig and I mustn’t have looked convinced. The guy continued:
“A kid will come up to y’all, and tell you where you got your shoes…”
Craig replied: “But I know where I got my shoes, I was there when I got them”

As I arrive in New Orleans from Austin, my shoes still wearing their unfamiliar shine, I recall this puzzling conversation.
Fifteen minutes.
That’s all it takes from the moment I leave my hotel until someone says:
“I know where you got them shoes!”
It seems that even nine years on the locals are still making money from tourists with their incredible powers of insight. Or is it just a load of cobblers?
Vegas has the strip. Austin has Sixth street. New… sorry, N’awlins has Bourbon Street.
And what a street it is?!
Even at 5pm on a Monday it’s an attack on the senses. There’s neon everywhere, street performers banging on all kinds of things, greeters trying to usher me into bars, clubs or “cabarets”, and the smell!
The buildings are old, the streets are tiny, and the sewers are odorous.
It’s all a bit crazy, so I take refuge in the Hard Rock café, eat some grilled salmon and talk to a couple from Maryland, where I’ve been:
“You probably didn’t stop!” says Phil, perceptively.

With some Dutch courage I head back down the street, and find loads of live music. There’s covers band after covers band, though they’re mostly playing the usual cheesy rubbish.
I find a blues band playing Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top, but without much conviction, and I actually find myself following a subtitled documentary on ESPN, about the 1983 NFL draft, while they play.
And so it’s an odd night. The bands make it hard to talk to people, but I’m enjoying the music, so I roam the street looking for a better band.
I find one place where they’re playing Heavy Metal covers with vigour. I stay and headbang for an hour until they take a break.
Next minute I’m dancing to a Maroon 5 song, then I’m in a crowded club and some guys with a brass section are belting out “Superstition”. I’m surrounded by young people in fancy dress having a good time. They turn out to be Aussies, with lots of energy.
Finally the band quits. Out in the street again, but New Orleans is slowing down after midnight. The Heavy Metal band are belting out some AC/DC so I end the night there. They’re no ETB, but not bad for a Monday!

On Tuesday I take a tour around the French quarter. It’s a good size to walk around, and with only a couple of days I feel I can just “do” this area, rather than trying to take in all of the city.
There’s a definite buzz to the area, none of the corporate cleanliness of Vegas though, which makes it feel a bit edgier to walk around. Lots of ornate buildings, trinket shops and entire streets of galleries displaying art and stuff…
Time for a run.
It’s a sweaty one around the edge of the French Quarter and along the Mississippi river. It’s not so hot, but it’s plenty muggy. And after three weeks of partying I’ve lost a lot of my Kiwi fitness. I’ll have to get healthy back in Amsterdam.

But I’m still on holiday, so it’s another night on the town. I start with a pizza slice, and as I queue to pay I here familiar sounds
“Are you guys from England?”
…and that’s all it takes to draw myself into a night of madness!

Four guys called, er, Morton, “Rocky?” “Rocky’s brother” and “Rocky’s brother’s flatmate” welcome me to their group. It seems I’m not the only inductee:
“No, I’ve just got here from Indiana University”, says the Australian, confusingly. “These guys are in my hostel”

We’re on a mission tonight, to find some real Nawlins Jazz. We’ve been told to “head for Frenchman’s street” but first we have to get down Bourbon Street, and all the hustler’s beckoning us into their establishments.
“Come on in!”
“No thanks”
“Where you going, you’re missing it!”
“No thanks”
“Cheap beer!”
“No thanks”
“Two for one”
“No thanks”
“Best bar in town!”
“No thanks”
“Three for one”
“No th…. Wait a second, did you say “Three for one?!”
“Yes sir!”
Well, it’s a long walk, we need some sustenance.

And so, we battle our way down Bourbon, encountering persistent midgets offering “Tooters”, surviving mechanical bulls, dodging “hand grenades” until we reach “Fritzels, a European Jazz bar”
We get a table and wait for the band. The place is packed with old people, the band must be good.
And they are. It’s a trio of pianist, bass and guitar, tootling away. I’m not a jazz man so it’s hard to describe the music, maybe “ragtime”.
But we were hoping for something more energetic, so we plough on. Eventually we make it down to Decatur Street and almost to Frenchman, but there’s a great sound issuing from a bar.
Inside we find what we’re looking for, a great band belting out the sort of high-energy jazz music you associate with Nawlins, well, I do.

Of course the band eventually takes a break, so we finally reach Frenchman’s street, and at least three more entertaining bars, before returning to our favourite. Nawlins begins to wind down again, and the boys are feeling the effects, so we decide to head home.

Via Bourbon street of course.

And hence I find myself on my last day of the trip, and quite possibly the very first day that nothing memorable has happened. After two nights of raging in every bar in the quarter, three weeks of partying, and two months of full-on experiences I’m done-for. Time for a quiet night in, some rest before the long journey back to Europe. And barring an entertaining flight, the final blog entry.

It’s been a great trip, a wild ride. I hope I’ve managed to capture most of my memories here for myself, and in doing so, entertained some of the people who care enough to read this foolishness.

I’ve met a heck of a lot of nice people, and a few truly special ones. I’ve been to incredible places and encountered awe-inspiring surroundings. I’ve seen and done so many things that made me glad to be alive, and out there trying. And again, going away makes me appreciate even more the people I left behind, and look forward to seeing them again. I know I can be a paranoid, miserable sod, fixating on the few things that remain tantalizingly out of reach, but I appreciate how fortunate I’ve been to make another epic trip. I hope I can find a reason to settle down, or better, someone to share RTW3…

And I know where I got my shoes:

I got my shoes… right here on my feet in New Orleans.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Two One Three - Leaving Las Vegas (again!)

I decide to end my Vegas experience the way I started: Sabana de Pollo at the Pink Taco. The barman’s not buying my minimal gambling strategy and charges me for my drink. There’s another guy here for work (like Danny was), but he’s on his first night so has to be responsible and go to bed early.
I try the Culinary Dropout bar. It’s an odd setup with a four sided bar, but large corner pillars prevent conversation between sections. So it’s a gamble on where to sit. I squeeze in next to a couple of guys and girls, with my usual maximal English:
“Is anybody sitting here?”
“No, go ahead, we’re just leaving”
Groan. Oh well, I guess I could do with a quiet final night, at least the barman recommends a nice beer.
..and another.
Finally a girl sits on my bit of the bar. Apparently she was the Maitre D’ earlier but is off shift. She like the place so much she’s sticking around for a drink. Despite her South Pacific heritage her name’s Vera. Her middle name is Liona, which is a lot more fitting. She’s very pretty, but very young.
The bar is open to the warm Vegas night and we’re feeling the heat. A guy called Scott arrives and tells Vera it’s “way cooler” on the other side of the bar. I’m more than happy when Vera invites me to also move round.

Scott is a “day trader” during the week and a High Roller at the weekend so spends a lot of time at the HRH. He comes from Austin Texas, my next stop and Live Music Capital of the World, but Scott seems intent on telling me about places to eat.
The barman’s also from Austin and offers the helpful advice:
“It’s a shame you’re not there for South by SouthWest”

More people join us, even the late-shift Maitre D’. The restaurant closes at ten, but they give people time to eat so stay open later.
Much later.
There’s a table full of people from PBR beer who drink nothing but cans of PBR. Taking corporate loyalty a bit far methinks.
An artistic-looking waitress finishes her shift and joins us. She seems really cool in a leftfield kind of way.
“I’ve never been in a nightclub, they sound like awful places”
From what I’ve seen of Vegas nightclubs I don’t blame her.
It’s great to hang out with a crowd, and everyone agrees the HRH has the best “vibe” in town. But they all have to work tomorrow so eventually I’m left with just Matt and Mark closing the bar.
So much for an early night.

And so to Austin. Via Phoenix. First Class!
There’s no Business class on US Airways domestic flights so I’m upgraded. Wahoo!
Or not.
They call it first, but it’s not up to European Business class standards. They don’t even let me in the lounge in Phoenix. How dare they!
At least the flights are short and the connection smooth, and I’m soon in Austin to pick up my Camaro. No messing around this time, I booked “Exact Model”.

“That, looks a lot like a Mustang”
“Er, yeah, the Camaro we have got a factory recall”
“Great”. Although I’m not that bothered. The latest Mustang is an OK muscle car, just not as pretty to look at. And after Vancouver I’m not sure I’ll actually be driving much at all here anyway.
Especially since my hotel is only half a mile from downtown, where all the action is.
But not tonight.
I’m finally done in. I collapse into bed for some sleep and prepare for a big day tomorrow.

May 1st. And a very special day. Today I get to meet someone very special. Someone who has made a huge contribution to my life. Who’s work has been there for me when I needed it, morning or night. From the North Dakota plains, to my Kiwi caravan. Without them I don’t know how I’d cope.
“I must be one of your biggest fans” I gush effusively.
“Well, er, thank you”
“I love your stuff, people mock me for it but I love it anytime of day!”
“Good. I see you’re enjoying the Raisin Bran” says the bloke from Kellogg’s.
“Oh yeah, this is good. But I also like Start, Sustain, Just Right, Coco Pops.. oh I could go on… and you can’t beat a bowl of corn flakes”
“Riiiiight.” Says the guy, backing away slowly. Wishing he could just enjoy his hotel breakfast without this crazy Englishman.

Makes my VIP encounter tonight with Jewel pale by comparison.
When I decided to do this trip I looked if anyone I liked would be playing Austin around the time of my visit. I was overjoyed to see that one of my favourite artists would be here, and somewhat incredulous to see they were offering VIP tickets to go backstage and meet her. I believe it was the first thing of the entire trip that I booked.
So I find myself staggering toward the Moody Theatre in Austin through the afternoon heat. I arrive to find a band already playing on the balcony, entertaining the early-arrivers.
I find our meeting spot, slap on my VIP sticker and talk to some of the other guests. They all seem to be local. Jenna has only just found out today that not only is she coming to the concert, she gets to meet Jewel. Her husband surprised her with the VIP ticket and now has a spare ticket:
“Wanna upgrade?” he asks me.
“Er, aren’t the VIP tickets in the best spot?”
“No. This is row D you’re back on the mezzanine”. He even shows me the seating plan and I’m torn. It sounds like an improvement, but surely they’d give us better seats for buying the VIP tickets. Maybe the view from the floor’s not so good?
“I’ll stick with mine, thanks.”
And so we’re taken into the concert hall and straight up onto the stage. It’s a nice medium-sized venue for a few thousand people, and weird to start by viewing it from the stage. There’s about a dozen of us falling over the carefully placed equipment and taking pictures of each other.
We’re soon whisked backstage for wine and cheese, to collect our free stuff and to await Jewel’s arrival. There’s a film crew recording tonight’s performance for Austin City Limits live and they want some shots of us meeting Jewel.
“Pick up that T-shirt again!!” yells a cameraman at me. I don’t mind, he’s just trying to do his job, but he suddenly realizes and adds “…please?”
We line up and Jewel arrives.
This is the greatest moment of my life, I can die happy now. Is what one of the girls says to me. Not for me. Jewel is “Meeting” a dozen people a night, shortly before performing for thousands, and in tonight’s case, a TV crew and live internet stream. She’s not got time to be interested in our questions or stories. I respect that, and am glad she at least avoids looking bored for my picture.
Then she’s gone. The other guests seem very happy with their brief brush with greatness and we talk excitedly until a cockney-sounding geezer tells us the support act has started and we should take our seats.
We’ve nibbled the cheese but not started the wine. I risk some sarcasm.
“Are you moving us on to keep all the wine for yourself?”
Gary is from Essex, and manages the venue. We have a brief chat about the artists they’ve had through, then he points me to my seat.

I’m in the back row of four on the mezzanine. We’re further back than the floor seats obviously, but there’s a good view and waitress service. The support act seems OK, one bloke playing guitar, but there’s an old guy in the seat next to me going crazy
“Oh, yeah!!!”
The song ends.
“That’s my boyyyy!!!” he yells, explaining his excitement.
“You must be very proud” I say.
He explains he was a singer but never got to perform at the legendary Austin City Limits so is very pleased to see his kid up there.

During the break lots more people flood in. Amazingly for an artist, Jewel starts on time, must be the TV taping. But with more people comes more noise. At the back of the mezzanine are corporate lounges. People who think their own voices are more interesting for us to hear than that of the artist we came for. Or perhaps they just don’t think.
Jewel starts her first song, she’s singing solo and acoustic tonight.
Oh, how incredible is that voice?
Oh, how I wish the people would shut up?!
“Can you believe the nerve of some people, showing up late?!” asks the old guy.
“I don’t mind that so much as the people yabbering!”
“God loves em all” he says.
Well, I don’t.
They’re not even whispering! And there’s so many of them I can’t just ask a few to shut the hell up.
And they don’t.
Yeah, sure, they clap and whoop loudly when Jewel finishes a song, acting like it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever heard, then they chat through the next one.

It’s seriously annoying me. I’m even contemplating leaving. What’s the point in watching the show if I’m just going to be pissed off the whole time and associate bad memories with Jewel songs?
Damn, how I wish I’d taken the other ticket. I bet the people on the floor are showing some respect.
I go for a beer, and find a quieter place to stand on my way back. This is a bit better. I relax and enjoy a few songs.
Jewel’s concerts have a spontaneous feel to them. Choosing some songs on the spot, forgetting lyrics, in London she even had her mum up on the stage.
“I’d like to invite my brother up to join me” says Jewel.
See what I mean?
Jewel’s brother turns out to be the guy who did the support act. But then that means the crazy old guy sat next to me is… Jewel’s dad!
I retake my seat with increased enthusiasm. Jewel’s brother Atz is singing louder, more forceful songs, which drowns out much of the talking. Then his dad has a word with the noisiest group and they quieten down.
Finally, I begin to enjoy the gig. Atz does a couple of great songs, his dad’s going crazy.
Jewel comes back on and remembers that this is supposed to be a Greatest Hits tour, so she does some of her most well-known songs, and the morons shut up when they hear songs they recognize.
“Foolish Games” almost has me in tears. What a song, what a voice.
Jewel recounts her days living in a car, performing and working hard to be successful. She thanks the people who went out and bought her albums and helped her achieve the success she has today.
Her dad grabs me by the shoulder and says:
“That’s you, Paul!”


Then Jewel announces that her father is here tonight, and tells some funny stories about him. She then invites him to join her on stage. The crazy guy from seat 229D leaps up and heads for the stairs, and suddenly the people around me cotton on.
“Is that her Dad?!”
“Are you part of the family?”

Dad joins Jewel onstage for a couple of his own songs, and then, as is traditional for a Jewel show, some yodeling.
And suddenly, it’s over.

An hour ago I almost left. Now I’m beaming like a loony. Outside I bump into Jenna and husband, they’re very happy.
Funny old world. If I’d taken that ticket I’d have probably enjoyed the show throughout. But I wouldn’t have had such a memorable encounter!

I’ve some autographed stuff to drop back at the hotel. Then I catch the shuttle to sixth street. Austin promises to be the Live Music Capital of the World, but based on the Kiwi “Capitals” that’s just setting me up for a fall. However, sixth street is a row of bar after bar, with live music billowing from almost all.
“Just walk down the street til you hear something you like”
…is the advice of the hotel receptionist.
Sure enough I hear a band on the balcony of the “blind pig” playing rock covers, and sit down to the sounds of Black Sabbath:
“People think I’m crazy because I am frowning all the time”
Yep. This is the spot.
I get a can of “Lone Star” because it looks local. It tastes like generic pissy lager.
“Do locals actually drink this stuff?” I ask a guy.
“Nah, it’s for tourists”
“So why are you drinking it?”
“Cos, that idiot bought them!”, “We drink Shiner Bock”
I get a Shiner Bock. Half as big, twice the price, and tastes like slightly better generic pissy lager.
I’ll stick to Bud Light!

Austin by day is not particularly exciting. Mind you, I need some quiet days. I run around Lady Bird Lake, which is pleasant , but not particularly memorable, and the highlight of my day is finding a shop with caps that are actually large enough for me!!
Maybe things really are bigger in Texas!

In the evening I’m heading to sixth street again, but need food first. I’m delighted to discover there’s a Hooters just round the corner from my hotel!
Of course I get a good conversation at the bar. Ryan is a local and also happens to be heading to New Orleans next week. He has to work in the morning so reluctantly declines a trip to sixth street.

I walk the street again and here some bluesy rock belting out of a bar called Friends. No space at the bar, so I squeeze in a gap behind a lady with a fantastic cowgirl hat, dark tassled waistcoat, dark jeans and boots. I offer to step aside when she looks to get up but she says “You’re cool”.
“No. You, are cool!”

The guitarist introduces the group as “The Eric Tessmer Band” and launches into another awesome riff. Then he launches himself off the stage and begins working his way through the crowd, giving people a close-up view of his flying fingers. He reaches the back of the bar, but he’s not done. Eric ventures behind the bar and talks to the barmaids, still playing hard.
Meanwhile the bass player is not to be outdone. He climbs off the stage, acquires a cigarette and heads out into the street, still playing.
Eric is now serving drinks.
He’s playing with one hand, lining up glasses and pouring shots.

This, is quite possibly, the coolest thing I have ever seen.

We all take a drink with Eric, whether we were in on the round or not, and he heads back around the bar.
He still hasn’t stopped shredding.
Now he heads out into the street to join the bass player. They’re still blasting away, puffing away, and checking IDs at the door.
Finally they pause for breath, and the poor drummer, constrained by his instrument, gets a chance to shine with a blistering solo.
He builds to a crescendo, the guitars rejoin and the performers storm back into the bar for the finale.
This …is fricking awesome.

I stay til the end. The ETB only take one break, during which I talk to some interesting people, then we’re drowned out by the music again. When they finally finish, Cowgirl returns and congratulates me for staying, before dashing over to fawn over the band. I head home happy.

So that’s Wednesday and Thursday in Austin. How good is the weekend going to be?

My rental car is sitting unused. I contemplate a trip to San Antonio, but the only real attraction there is the Alamo, and I’ve forgotten what that is.

One of Austin’s big attractions is the “bat bridge” and it’s opposite my hotel. A million and a half bats fly out at sunset.
I wait around until Sunset and watch a million and a half bats fly out, as described. They take their time about it so it’s twenty minutes of mild interest when I was hoping for thirty seconds of insanity: skies darkening, deafening screeches of sonar…
Oh well, the best bit is all the friendly people to talk to while we wait.

It’s Friday night. What the hell, I’m going to Hooters again. This time I meet George from Houston, who desperately wants to move back to Austin.
If I could find a place where it’s as easy to meet women as it is to meet men at an American Sports Bar I’d be married with three kids by now!

“It’s a shame you’re not here for South by SouthWest”

I use the hotel shuttle to get downtown again, and the receptionists are bitching about the cold weather. It suits me just right!

Apparently sixth street gets a bit young on the weekends so they suggest the Warehouse district where the older folk go (the over 25s).
But the bands are few, far between and seem pretty lame. I head back down sixth street to discover many of the bars don’t have live music on a Friday. The streets are packed with drunken “teenagers” in high heels and posh frocks queueing to get into bars blaring the same old HipHop tunes.
I can enjoy this stuff around a Vegas pool, but in Austin?

Eventually I find a half decent band, but nothing memorable.

Saturday. Still tired. Maybe I’m broken. Good job there’s less than a week left.
Back to Hooters and another new friend:
“My friends are buying ammo by the ten thousand. We’re arming ourselves for the coming civil war. Do you know that, thanks to Obama, every child is born fifty-three thousand dollars in debt to the Chinese?!”
“It’s a shame you’re not here for South by SouthWest”

Let’s try the South Congress district tonight.
Nope. No fun there.

Back to sixth street. It’s still packed with drunk kids grinding against each other, but there’s one oasis. A refuge of talent and performance away from prats in backward caps poking laptops.
The Irish pub isn’t very Irish, but it has live music in the shape of…The Eric Tessmer band!!
Here we go again!!

Friday, May 3, 2013

2.12 - Coming Home.

It’s a Thursday, for what it’s worth, and I’m knackered. A big week in Vancouver and the emotional toll of making new friends and leaving them has me drained. I need to go somewhere quiet and recuperate…

Las Vegas.

The flight is uneventful, and I’m swiftly in a taxi and at my hotel. I step out of the taxi to the sounds of Springsteen singing that
“you can’t start a fire without a spark”
…and I know I chose the right place to stay.
It’s good to be back at the Hard Rock Hotel. The girl on the desk doesn’t welcome me back this time, but she does put me in a suite. I’d ticked the box for a cheap upgrade if any suites were unsold and ended up with a corner suite. It’s huge, has a vast bathroom with an epic bath, and not just a 42 inch TV, but two! I plug my ipod into the sound system and crank AC/DC’s Sin City.

I can’t take it easy in Vegas.
To the bar!

On the way I check out the displays of rock memorabilia. There’s one for a girl called Orianthi. I’ve never heard of her but she’s on the cover of Rock Guitar magazine, and playing a gig tonight at the HRH so I buy a ticket.
I head for the Pink Taco and a Sabana de Pollo. It’s as decent as I remember. The lady next to me isn’t very chatty, but the guy on the other side is. His name is Danny. He’s from Huntington Beach, California, but he has an English girlfriend from Shrewsbury, so seems excited to talk to another English person.
I join him for another drink at the new “Culinary Dropout” restaurant bar, then he goes to gamble while I go to the gig.
Sadly my timing is way off. I catch the last two songs of the support band Future Vilains, and they’re really good! D’oh! Then I have to hang around waiting for Orianthi, double d’oh!
Eventually she starts and, well, I’m not convinced. To me she looks like Christina Aguilera trying to be Jimmy Hendrix. She’s technically very good, but I wouldn’t call it Rock and Roll. Where’s the venom? Where’s the passion?
Other people seem to like it, so I leave them to it and go look for Danny. He’s propping up a blackjack table and making the most of the complimentary drinks. Though by the time he’s tipped the waitress they’re not that complimentary.

Danny explains the secret of how to win at BlackJack. Bet ten bucks. If you win, leave fifteen on, if you lose three in a row, quit.
Er, yeah, sure, that makes up for playing a game designed so the house always wins. No thanks.
Danny keeps winning while I stand there, and it looks temptingly easy as the players invite me to join in. But this is one of those occasions where being cynical is good.
“Not for me, thanks”
But Danny’s off to the loo, and is trusting/drunk enough to ask me to watch his chips, and play while he’s away.
It’s a mug’s game, but I still get a slight buzz from at least having a go at something new.

OK. Here we go…
Ten bucks bet.
I’m dealt 13.
“Hit me.”
Jack. Bust.

Ten bucks bet.
“Hit me”
Queen. Bust.

Ten bucks bet.
Oh, for……
“Hit me”
Five. Makes Nineteen.
“Woo-bloody –hoo”
Dealer draws twenty-one.

Colour me unimpressed.

I follow Danny’s three strikes rule and stop losing his money. He returns from the bathroom, doesn’t seem surprised I’ve lost three, doesn’t want his thirty bucks back, and proceeds to lose the rest of his three hundred dollars.

They built this city (not on Rock and Roll) but on games like this???!!!!! There really is one born every minute.

I point out that if we’re going to blow money in Vegas we might as well blow it on getting drunk, listening to loud music, and failing to chat-up attractive girls, so we head to a club.
But first we’re stopped by a skinny black lady named Lianna, who is apparently a masseuse, and is very keen that we take her upstairs so she can show how good a masseuse she is, but I decline.
“I already had a massage at the airport before my flight. I’m still quite loose, thanks”
Lianna gives me an odd look. She obviously takes her massaging very seriously.

The club is much more fun and me and Danny have a great time, until Danny gets too drunk and wants to fight people. I start to distance myself from him, I don’t want to be thrown out. I hope the bouncers can’t see us.
Then Danny decides he wants to fight me.
I hope the bouncers can see us!
But it’s just talk, he’s wasted.
I’m pretty tired too, and it’s the weekend tomorrow!!! Time for bed.

Exhaustion, hangover, and no “Do not disturb sign” in my room are a bad combination. There’s not even a notepad to make one. I yell at the persistent maids until I think to have reception bring a sign up.
Eventually I stagger out to the pool, and my hangover is quickly forgotten.

Oh, the Hard Rock Hotel pool. How I’ve missed you!
It’s a beautiful place, more like a beach than a hotel pool. With exotic plants and trees, music blasting, beautiful people, beautiful landscapes …and no fricking kids!!
My happy place.
I swim around for a bit. Soak in the hot tub. Then find a rare luxury: an unoccupied Lounger.
There’s a girl about my age on the next lounger sunbathing alone. I ask her how it’s going but she doesn’t say much.
Think of something, think of something…

…If she’s almost my age, she’s long since stopped being a girl…

No. Think of something useful!!

Think of something, think of something…

“I hear Prince is playing here tonight, do you know anything about it?”
“Yeah, my boyfriend runs up for Prince” comes the reply.

Wow. With one short sentence she’s destroyed any hopes of hanging out, created a likelihood that I can learn a lot about the show, and confused the hell out of me.
What the hell does “runs up” mean? He makes dresses? Climbs hills? Comes in second place at every contest Prince enters?
Instead of asking that, I ask about the show. It seems Prince is indeed performing, but the tickets are 250 a pop. Now as a fan of music, I respect Prince’s achievements, and would like to see him perform, but I don’t particularly like his own songs, so 250 is ridiculous.

Speaking of value, I head to Mr Lucky’s diner for dinner. It’s rubbish. The service is slow, the décor is plain, but it has one thing going for it: The Gambler’s Special. Not on the menu, but a big salad, shrimps, steak and spuds for 7.77 is a bargain in Vegas, especially at the HRH.
Afterwards I wander into the trendy clothes shop, but the assistants tell me where to go.
They’re more interested in my night out than selling me anything and suggest I head downtown. This is a good idea, I’ve been meaning to go and see Fremont street since Ben recommended it last time.

I hop in a taxi, and only 25 bucks later(!) I’m under the giant LED canopy. There’s some bloke blaring a saxophone, people dressed as all sorts of celebrities and a real buzz about the place. It’s less dressy than the strip. The strip tends to be a mix of everything from shorts and sandals to suits and shiny shoes. Here there’s no suits, just happy people.
There’s lots of live music. I find a fantastically energetic band playing covers of chart hits, with a guy and a girl taking turns on the vocals. There’s an outdoor corner bar to watch the action from so I can rest my weary bones and thoroughly enjoy the show.
Eventually they take a break for the lightshow. It’s pretty impressive. The canopy is huge and there’s a live Bon Jovi video playing through the masses of speakers. All kinds of spaceships blast around overhead, the Battlestar Galactica flying past the Enterprise, Klingon’s dueling with Thunderbirds and Cylons.
Somehow I make it back to the hotel at a respectable hour and get some sleep.

Saturday. Rejuvenated I head out to the pool again. After a soak and a swim I nip to the gym for a long overdue workout, though it means running on a treadmill, yawn!
Back to the pool and I meet an hispanic guy who’s celebrating his 22nd birthday with a group of mates. He tells me I look 25, until I take my cap off.
“Keep the cap on”
It’s a nice day at the pool, a good warm-up for tomorrow’s insanity - anyone who read RTW1 should remember what Sunday at the HRH pool means.
But it’s Saturday night. Where to eat?

I know!

I can’t believe I’ve been travelling for, what, 48 days? ..and not been in one Hooters Bar!

I taxi to the Hooters casino and head for the bar. There’s an epic queue for tables, but I get a spot at the bar. People who misunderstand the appeal of Hooters should see that queue. It’s Saturday night in Vegas. There’s plenty of places where you can go and eat and stare at girls wearing a lot less than the Hooters waitresses. Yet here’s a huge queue of men, women, couples and families waiting to get in.

Of course the barflies are good for a conversation. The guy next to me is from South Dakota, but seems to have a kid in every state. He always stays here when visiting Vegas and seems confused that I’d want to stay elsewhere.

Strengthened by my Philly Cheese Steak I do the epic casino trek. Through MGM Grand, across to New York, New York, and down to Planet Hollywood. Red Light Vegas recently ended their residency here, but I’m pleased to find a band called Evenflow playing. They’re extremely good, and throw in some heavier songs with the usual uninspired requests.
“No, we’re not playing Journey!”
Thank goodness.
“…til after midnight”
Two years on and people still want the same song?! Sixty years of rock and roll and that’s the best song you can think of?!

Being “Evenflow” they can knock out some impressive Pearl Jam, and the guitarist is particularly impressive, playing behind his head at every opportunity. There’s some drunken tall guy next to me. Keeps mumbling things but I’m not sure what. A small blonde woman arrives with a bloke, both looking a bit worse for wear – but then it is a Saturday night in Vegas. She introduces herself as Jen, and Andy is leaning on the bar.
“Does my head look alright?” she asks.
“Er, eh? You mean your hair?”
“er, yeah, sure, they both look fine”
“Up or down?”
“erm, I’d say Hair down, head up”
This gets me a free beer from Jen and is enough to convince drunken tall bloke that we’re a match made in heaven.
“Why aren’t you dancing with her?”
“Because that’s her husband!” I explain, for the fourth time.
Suddenly everyone wants to find me a woman. Jen is asking ladies politely, Andy is drunkenly yelling at them, and Tally McPissed is insisting that me and Jen are the perfect couple.
“There’s nobody here right for you” says Jen.
“I know. Thanks. But the music’s great isn’t…”
“But I’ll keep looking!”

I really wish she’d stop and leave me alone to enjoy the…
“Hang on. She’s gorgeous!”
“The white girl in the black dress with the black girl in the white dress” I answer, monochromatically.
Jen charges off.
Yeah, right. Like a gorgeous, early-twenties, brunette is going to respond to the “my friend fancies you!” level of chat-up lines and come over.
At least it’s keeping Jen busy so I can enjoy the…
“Hi, I’m Monique”
“Oh, er, hello”
“Your friend thinks I’m a prostitute”
“Does she?” I reply. Given the scenario, Jen has a point. But Monique explains that she works in “Promotions” so that clears up any possible doubt. And she’s French.
“Vraiment?” I ask, hoping that’s a French word.
“Oui, Parlez-Vous Francais?”
“Ah! Bien Sur!”
Somehow I manage to babble in French for a while without accusing her dog of smoking hosepipes and she’s smiling at me. I switch back to English.
“Why is your friend wearing a Tiara?”
“It’s her birthday”
Of course it is. Now I can’t really buy Monique a drink and ignore her mate, but what the hell, I haven’t been blowing my money on blackjack.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
“Strawberry Margherita”
“…and your mate”
Her friend comes over and says “Adios”
“It’s a drink”
“Right. Barman!”
“I need to see their IDs”
“Oh. I don’t have my ID”. Says Monique. “Here’s my club wristband from earlier”
“No. Sorry”
Her mate doesn’t have ID either.
“We’ll nip home and get them” says Monique. “Wait here”.

And so ends one of the weirdest encounters of both trips. I watched the band for another hour and a half. They were very good until the end, though they did of course play “Don’t stop believing”. They finished with “Enter Sandman” by which time Jen and Andy had left, and I’d found myself someone to dance with.

Monique didn’t return, so I’ll never know whether she was just a nice, forgetful woman with a penchant for older English guys.

Sunday. Rehab.
As you know by now, Rehab is an ironic name. So a late night with evenflow wasn’t the best preparation. Luckily the queue was short at 1pm:
“We’re having a lull, but it’ll soon get busy again…and we go on til 7pm”
I passed the security check, stepped out into the bright sunshine and took in the sight that greeted me.
How can you possibly improve on perfection? Sunshine, drinks, beautiful happy people dancing, jumping and splashing to loud pumping music.
Hundreds of them.
It’s madness in the pool. Balls are flying everywhere. Some are being kept aloft through impromptu volleyball games, most are being launched at anyone not looking.
I exhale as one hits me in the face, knocking my cap off.
“I’m really sorry!” apologises my extremely attractive, bikini clad attacker, and gives me a big hug.
Awesome. Forget opening lines. Just smack ‘em in the face with a beachball!

And so went the next six hours. I didn’t even drink. Just splashed in the pool and danced like a fool.
I love rehab. It’s all the fun of a nightclub without the pretension. Instead of prancing about on high heels in tonnes of make-up, the girls let loose. The guys are still prancing about showing off their muscles, but there’s plenty of chubby, pastey, old, bald, or crazy guys just having fun.
As one of the more direct song lyrics puts it:
“This is f**king awesome!”

There’s just one disappointment. The dueling piano show no longer happens at the HRH. This is a real bummer for me. After a day’s partying it was the perfect way to spend the evening last time. There’s no point going clubbing again, and leaving the hotel seems like hard work. I eat in the Pink Taco again, and for once get a free drink by gambling the minimum on the bar machine.
Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

Monday. Last day in Vegas. One last chance to enjoy the glorious pool. I meet some guys who are going to ride Harleys for a week, then see Santana and some other bands in Vegas. Sounds awesome.
There’s a man desperately searching the pool for his wedding ring, egged on by his wife. Poor sod.
I somehow manage a workout, though I don’t last long. Gym’s are boring at the best of times, but with the sun shining and the pool calling me back..

There’s still some beachballs knocking around. After rescuing a ball a couple of times I’m invited to join in a game. There’s a very intense dude keeping count and insisting we can keep the ball up for 50 hits. (Well, yeah, if we all stand together and make small hits dude…)
We reach 95 and I think he’s going to explode with joy.

Tattoos on girls are getting more popular and larger. One girl has two angel wings and a devil tail all over her back. She’s talking to some pretty boy.
“Do you know what it symbolizes?” she asks him
“Er, like wings…”
She pulls a face and asks me.
“Yeah, sure. It’s the duality of your personality. As a Gemini you have two distinct sides to your character, pulling you in different directions…”
Her face lights up, glad to be validated by a clearly intelligent human being. Then she returns to talking to the good looking guy.
Who am I to argue!

As the sun’s beginning to set I find a nice spot to take in the last hour. But I’m dragged into yet another game of volleyball. This one’s great fun. No intense dude. The circle is widely spread, the ball goes high, and there’s great delight in the extremes people go to in keeping the ball aloft.
Full stretch dives are the norm. Re-emerging to cries of “again!” as the ball falls back on the spluttering hero. Even those who are not playing are joining in, with “celebrity shots” from the sun loungers rescuing our ball and keeping the dream alive. Every rescue is greeted with a cheer, none more so than when a wayward shot is returned by the lifeguard from her high chair.

Sadly our numbers eventually dwindle as people have to leave. I rescue my shirt and towel, and as I leave the pool area I take one last look around.

If I ever came into a fortune I wouldn’t buy a big house. I’d rent a suite here.
…and a second one so you can come and visit.